If you’re experiencing a pattern of finding the wrong candidates, whether they aren’t meeting minimum qualifications or don’t seem to “fit” within your culture, how you are writing job descriptions might be the culprit.
Often overlooked, writing job descriptions properly plays a crucial role in attracting talent to a company’s open positions and hence deserve special attention. They help to build a talent pipeline that suits the needs and goals of an organization. A common problem while writing job descriptions is that they fail to properly articulate the requirements and the specific characteristics of the job that would make it noticeable and attractive to the right candidates. In an era where half of U.S. employers indicate a severe shortage of qualified candidates, companies must put great thought into effectively communicating their needs, while making it sound interesting and exciting to the kind of talent that they really want to attract.
Writing job descriptions clearly can help candidates understand the responsibilities and expectations associated with the position. When the content of the job description is written with special attention to who it should appeal to, it automatically attracts more relevant candidates to the job opening. Those ultimately hired will have a shorter learning curve, adapt much easier and in many cases be able to hit the ground running. Well-crafted job descriptions can also help to map out and measure the performance of a new hire after a certain period of time, providing employers the opportunity to look back and see how well the new hire is able to perform according to the requirements in the original job description. Lastly, writing job descriptions that convey the culture and mission of your workplace helps candidates determine for themselves if there is a mutual fit. Of course, finer details must go into writing job descriptions, but these general messages should also be communicated clearly.
Details. Provide as much detail as you can to help candidates understand what it would take to be successful in that position. Every job post has a “description,” however, most don’t communicate this effectively. Have some of your current employees in similar positions help you in writing job description by describing some of the most significant, interesting and intriguing aspects of the job. Also, make sure to highlight the challenges that the incoming employee must be prepared to tackle. This helps in filtering out candidates who are either not interested in the various aspects of the job or can self-screen themselves based on the challenges of the position. Along with the job title, summary, key responsibilities, skills, include the company overview and a description of the company culture. Descriptions often lack these details, attracting the wrong talent or having qualified candidates unable to find out more about the company and hence deciding not to apply.
Clarity and Focus. Descriptions are often too vague or verbose, leaving candidates unable to determine if it is a good fit for them and whether they should apply. This could result in too few applications from the right candidates and too many from those who may not be a good fit. When writing job descriptions, you should obviously have a very clear sense for what position you are looking to fill. You should also have a clear sense for what kind of a person will fit into that position. For example, if you are looking to fill a junior level position, be clear that you are interested in recent graduates or in people with a certain number of years of experience. This would help in avoiding a ton of applications from highly or over-qualified individuals, if the job is vaguely defined and for some reason appears to seem bigger than what it really is. When good candidates apply for vaguely or incorrectly described jobs and don’t hear back or feel their application did not get enough attention, the result could be bad publicity for the company and its hiring practices as some of these candidates are likely to share their opinions with others, when they don’t get a proper response.
Additionally, it’s best to keep descriptions filled with the most important details. Keep the description concise at no more than a paragraph long (3-4 sentences) with a few bullet points to easily get your key points across.
Formatting and Presentation. Highlight the key areas that you need the candidates to pay attention to. Provide links to more detailed information if necessary. When sharing more information about the company, allocate a certain area on your career pages where such information can be readily available via downloads or external links.
If a candidate is not able to find a current job opening that is a good fit for them, provide them with an opportunity to engage with your company by filling out a general application and/or signing up for email alerts. Bringing good candidates to your website is tough. When they do find your open jobs, make sure you are able to engage. A clean user interface that is designed and formatted to appeal candidates makes a huge difference and can set your company apart from those using systems with interfaces that literally repel candidates.
Timeliness. One argument against writing job descriptions is that they become dated as soon as they’re written. It has some truth to it – present-day technologies force job positions to be either created, eliminated, or in a state of constant adaptation. If the position is being restructured to fit the needs of your company while it’s still vacant, be sure to keep it updated. Often times it’s as simple as including the date it was posted and/or revised so candidates know that what they’re viewing is really what you’re looking for now.
When a job opening has been filled, make sure to “close” or remove that job description from your careers site as soon as possible, using your applicant tracking system. Having candidates apply for jobs only to find out later that these positions have been filled leaves a negative impression with the candidate. When a job is not open anymore, make sure to communicate to all who applied and let them know that the position is not available anymore.
Recruiting strategies often overlook the foundational aspect of writing job descriptions. They are typically the first impression most job candidates will have of an employer, which makes it critical for the company to be aware of and very sensitive to the kind of message their job descriptions reveal to interested talent.
What do you think? How do you approach the task of writing job descriptions for your open positions? What are some elements to include in yours?